Stormont ministers expected to respond to court ruling on apartment claims six-year time limit

Victoria Square apartments in Belfast city centre. Photo: Colm Lenaghan/PacemakerVictoria Square apartments in Belfast city centre. Photo: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Victoria Square apartments in Belfast city centre. Photo: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Stormont ministers will consider extending to the time limit for property owners to bring claims in the event of major defects being discovered.

The news comes after the High Court in Belfast struck out a claim by the owners of apartments in Victoria Square – which were vacated due to structural defects – on the grounds that it was outside the six-year time limit.

Residents were forced out, with no compensation, in 2019 and have been left in limbo ever since.

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They say they have had to continue paying service charges for ongoing maintenance, property rates and building insurance on top of rising mortgage payments for many, despite not having access to their properties.

Mr Justice Huddleston accepted there is “a lot of human pain” but added that “the reality is I must apply the law as it is, and it’s not for me to speculate on what the legislature will do”.

Solicitor James Turner of O’Reilly Stewart, who represented the apartment owners, called for cross-party support to extend the time limit.

“The owners of [the apartments] are completely blameless victims in this failure to address the problems and are now victims twice over as a result of the failure of the legislature to act quickly to give homeowners in Northern Ireland the same basic protection against dangerous buildings as homeowners enjoy in England and Wales,” he said.

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Construction firms Farrans and Gilbert-Ash, and architects Building Design Partnership, all vehemently denied any liability.

On Thursday, Communities Minister Gordon Lyons said his department would take on responsibility for consulting on possible legislative action.

"I have spoken with [Daera] Minister Muir in relation to the Defective Premises Order and agreed the transfer of functions to my department, subject to executive and assembly approval,” he told the BBC.

"These are complex matters.

"We have agreed to meet again next week to further consider the process of policy development and consultation to update the legislation," Mr Lyons added.